Friday, May 24, 2013

Fiber journey: from roving to yarn cake

When you break it down, there is something faintly ridiculous about spinning your own yarn.  I mean, there you are with heaps of yarn in the cupboard waiting for you to take it out and make something with it, and instead you do this:

Find the perfect roving,

Divide it up evenly so you can spin it into singles,

Several singles, that is,

Then ply and weigh it,

Skein, measure, prepare to wash it,

Let it dry, and then cake it.

All that before you can even think about working with it.  And in this case, there are still more steps before the yarn can become something because each of these cakes has turned out to be a slightly different weight of yarn.  Not a lot different, but enough that any socks I try to knit with them will be a very peculiar shape with many bumps and protrusions.

Fortunately I have rather a lot more roving to work with, ahem.  And after all, I can always stripe my handspun socks, right?

The gory details

I'm sure there are many people reading Hugs who are a good deal more experienced with spinning, but I thought I'd share some details about the ways I've found easiest to tackle these various steps.

Dividing: I use my kitchen scales, which have yet to see my kitchen, and a big plastic bowl to weigh the roving.  When I was first spinning I liked to ply two singles together, but now that I'm able to get thinner singles I divide the total amount of roving into three equally weighted piles instead of that early two.

Spinning: I don't have a lot of extra gear with my wheel, so when I've finished spinning a lump of fiber I free up the spindle by wrapping the end of what's on the spindle around my first two fingers to start a ball.  I let each ball rest for a few days to set the twist.

Plying: I don't love the plastic element of this solution but it is very, very effective (and cheap!).  I keep a few seal-able plastic sandwich bags with a little snip cut into the side, and I pop each ball into one of them, then run the loose end out through the snip.  This keeps the singles from unwinding too far and wrapping up around each other before I want them too.  When I get to the end of one ball, as invariably happens, I open the bag containing the other, fish out the other end, and bring it up to the end of the first ball so I can ply the what's left of the second onto itself.  Eventually I'm left with a little loop wrapped around the sandwich bag, and I just snip the yarn at the fold.  Done!  (except that I'm thinking now of sewing little pouches with a silky smooth interior and a grommet on the side, and if I go that route I can expect to add another 4-6 hours to the process... the first time, anyway.  I'm slow with sewing.)

Weighing and skeining: I weigh each ball before I skein it, then pop it into a deep (clean, empty) juice jug so it doesn't roll away while I skein it.  I make a 72" skein so that each wrap is two yards long, and then I count the wraps around the swift to see how many yards I got.  Then I tie the four sides of the skein with colour-coordinated scrap sock yarn: four greens for one, four multicolours for another, four reds for a third... you get the idea.  I keep a book specifically for noting yarn weights so I always know where to look for this information, and I write down the weight, yardage, and colour code for each.

Washing:  I do this step in the washing machine on 'Soak'.  First I fill the machine as high as I'll need, and pour in some (surprise!) Soak.  I let it agitate a little to mix in the Soak, and then I turn off the machine and pop the skeins, safely tucked into lingerie bags, into the water.  This last time I forgot the lingerie bag step and one skein got wrapped around the agitator in the spin cycle, which is not something you want to have happen to you, ahem.  The spin part comes after the yarn has soaked for as long as it takes me to remember I left it in there - ideally not more than half an hour, but I've gone longer and it's still yarn when I get back to it.  Nearly dry yarn, at that, when the spin-dry part is finished.  (I don't let the machine do any agitating; I turn the dial straight from Soak to Spin before I turn the machine back on.)

Drying: Each skein hangs around the neck of a plastic hanger in the laundry room till it's dry.

Caking: I prep a scrap of paper for each skein with its colour code, weight, yardage, and a conversion to the number of yards per 100g to make it easier for me to determine which cakes will work nicely together.  Then I cake the skeins one at a time and tuck the correct paper scrap into the middle of each cake as I go along.

Whew... that is pretty crazy, isn't it.  But it's worth it, because there is nothing puffier and softer than a nice handspun yarn.  And hey, it's not much more crazy than knitting a lace shawl - hours and hours of intricate work that is concealed immediately upon wearing, if you scarf it snugly around your neck (I'm looking at you, mirror...)

And with all that: have a fabulous weekend.  I'll see you Monday - I have some knitting to show you!

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